The 2014 NFL regular season is approaching fast, but there are several big-name players who are still sitting on the free-agent market.
With tight end Jermichael Finley, linebacker James Harrison and cornerback Asante Samuel all possible targets for teams that suffer injuries as the season progresses, the franchises that take the educated risks on these players could yield huge returns.
Here are the top remaining NFL free agents and their predicted landing spots.
Jermichael Finley, TE
The Green Bay Packers currently have three tight ends fighting for the starting job (Andrew Quarless, Brandon Bostick and Richard Rodgers), but there is no doubt re-signing Jermichael Finley would instantly make him the best pass-catcher of the bunch.
In Finley’s 70 games with Green Bay, he racked up 223 receptions for 2,785 yards and 20 touchdowns. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers needs a viable check-down option, and Finley already knows the system.
The problem is that Finley is coming off a neck injury that has caused concern around his future in the NFL. According to Jason Wilde of ESPNWisconsin.com, the tight end was in Green Bay to meet with doctors in July:
At this point, Finley should be working hard preparing for a return when the Packers inevitably come calling. The current crop of tight ends on the roster is likely not good enough to help the team seriously contend in the NFC, and the franchise will have to find Rodgers some help at the position.
Finley should be the perfect answer.
Predicted Landing Spot: Green Bay Packers
James Harrison, LB
Rookie Ryan Shazier is proving to be a smart addition to the Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker group, but the unit is lacking depth. If an injury strikes, one player who will be on head coach Mike Tomlin’s short list is free agent James Harrison.
There is no question that Harrison doesn’t possess the same speed he once did, but with an unmatched passion and tenacity, the veteran would be a steadying force for the franchise in a time of need.
Harrison has expressed his interest in returning to Pittsburgh, but the team is looking to utilize the youth it has added. Outside linebackers Jarvis Jones and Jason Worilds are emerging as elite players, and the franchise wants the focus to be on them and their development.
If the Steelers do call on Harrison eventually, his presence will help the team in two ways. Football fans know him as the hard-nosed run-stopper and pass-rusher, but he would also provide leadership to a young group of linebackers.
With the right price tag, Harrison would be the perfect depth player for Pittsburgh.
Predicted Landing Spot: Pittsburgh Steelers
Asante Samuel, CB
Injuries at the cornerback position happen frequently in the NFL. As the season progresses, injuries will force teams to scour the free-agent market, and waiting will be the best available, Asante Samuel.
Samuel is not the top-tier talent he was in New England or Philadelphia, but he is still a serious ball hawk and would make for a serviceable replacement if a top defensive back goes down for the season. One team already rumored to be showing interest is the New York Jets.
According to a report from Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, New York reached out to Samuel with recent injuries to Dee Milliner and Dexter McDougle:
Source: Jets reached out to veteran free agent cornerback Asante Samuel today. However, #NYJ unlikely to sign him.— Manish Mehta (@MMehtaNYDN) August 10, 2014
It’s still early in the preseason and teams are already knocking on his door. As a veteran of the league who has always kept himself in elite shape, Samuel has the ability to sign with a team in the middle of the season and step in as a viable short-term replacement.
While the Jets did not follow through and sign Samuel, lackluster play at the cornerback position won’t fly in Rex Ryan’s defensive scheme. If the team can’t find a fix on the current roster, the groundwork has been set for a possible deal with Samuel in the future.
Predicted Landing Spot: New York Jets
*Stats via NFL.com.